NDP and You; A Continuing Saga

So a couple of months ago I wrote a blog about how I came to discover the Wi-Fi community of CWNP, Wireless LAN Professionals, and WLPC.  In that blog I discussed a different blog that I found about Cisco NDP that was written by Rowell Dionicio from Packet 6.  That blog was the start of a journey that led me to CWNP and my 9 month struggle with Cisco TAC.  Since I know enough to not say this is the conclusion of that journey, I will just say this is the next part of my NDP journey.

For starters, read this blog by Rowell.  It’s what started my journey and it is the basis for the experience I went through over the past 9 months, fighting with TAC, learning more about background processes that happens in a Cisco Wireless LAN deployment.  Read this, then come back and I’ll attempt to put a bow on my story and lessons learned, all while trying to keep things professional.

https://www.packet6.com/cisco-ndp-neighbor-discovery-protocol/

In this story, it all stemmed from our RRM not working at all.  Like not even close to acting like it was working.  We would come in on a Monday morning and every 5 GHz radio would be on the same channel, and all at the highest transmit power.  Looking back on it, I can now explain it as if all the AP’s appeared to be on an island; isolated and all alone.  On the contrary they should have had multiple neighbors, instead they had none.  Oddly enough, when looking at the 2.4 GHz channels, they had more neighbors than they should have, and at one point TAC even suggested the problem was too many neighbors.

About 6 weeks after opening up our case, we had some time in the office so we decided to get back to basics and do some super basic troubleshooting.  We took 2 AP’s and turned them up in our office, and started running some debugs and packet captures from the 2 AP’s.  While watching the active debug’s, I noticed that one of the AP’s showed 2 different lines, while the other one only had one line that kept repeating.  The values changed, but the “header” info stayed the same.  The 2 lines are:

LWAPP NEIGHBOR and CAPWAP_RM

Doing what I do best, I went to the Google to look for those terms and lo and behold, Rowell’s blog post came up first for the LWAPP entry.  What happened after that was a blur, but what I can tell you know is my world changed.  The reason why RRM didn’t work? NDP wasn’t happy.  Why didn’t anything work? NDP wasn’t happy.  Why didn’t our super-duper expensive hyper-location service not work?  NDP wasn’t happy.  I think you see where I am going with this.

Why wasn’t RRM happy?  NDP wasn’t working.  The special commands to look at these packets are listed in Rowell’s blog, but I will list them here.  Both are run from the CLI on the AP it’self, and you better be saving the output because it comes at you fast and furious.

debug capwap rm measurements and debug capwap rm neighbor

I will tell you, looking at these at first can be intimidating, and for a while they were for me as well, but then I found this guide.  When I first found it Cisco had it listed as a White Paper, it has now progressed to being an actual guide.  Before I allow anyone outside our group to touch our system or work on it, they have to read this guide.  It’s so important that I have 2 hard copies printed out; one for me and one marked as a guest copy.  If you are going to do Cisco RRM, don’t do anything without reading this document.  Rowell’s blog is a condensed version of this guide, but this is worth every page.

https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/td/docs/wireless/controller/technotes/8-3/b_RRM_White_Paper.html

After reading the first couple of sections, I was able to go back in to the debugs and read them like they were a novel.  My whole world opened up.  Everything I thought I knew about Wireless LAN changed, and I realized I didn’t know even a fraction of what I thought I knew.  I also realized that Cisco, at least Cisco TAC, didn’t know about this information.  It was at this point I knew I needed to find a group that could teach me the IEEE standards of Wi-Fi, not just what button to click on the WLC.  That’s an earlier blog post you can find here.  The first thing we noticed was NDP simply wasn’t being transmitted on the 5 GHz channel.  That was simple, we did a wireless capture and sure enough, no NDP being sent out on any channel, by any AP.  By reading the guide and Rowell’s post, you should realize that NDP is supposed to go out on EVERY channel, not just it’s assigned channel.  When we sat in an area surrounded by 6 AP’s and didn’t see one NDP packet on a given channel in 10 minutes; it was an easy problem to present to TAC.  That resulted in our second code upgrade to deal with this problem.  (For those with any experience, you know as soon as you open a ticket you plan on doing a code upgrade, rather annoying actually.)

So we finish our first code upgrade and things are working OK, but after about 48 hours we realize that there actually isn’t much change.  Turns out when you bounce the entire system, which happens in a code upgrade, it magically fixes everything for a short period of time.  For more on that check out this rant.  What we found is even though the NDP packet was being sent out, we had a problem with the radio actually listening for the packet.  Using the debug capwap rm measurements command we found this:

CAPWAP_RM: RRM measurement completed. Request 2007, slot 0 status TUNED
CAPWAP_RM: RRM measurement completed. Request 2007, slot 0 status SUCCESS
CAPWAP_RM: noise measurement channel 8 noise 81
CAPWAP_RM: Rx Timer expiry
CAPWAP_RM: Neighbor Interval timer(slot 0) expired
CAPWAP_RM: Generating aggregated neighbor report for slot 0
CAPWAP_RM: RRM measurement completed. Request 2017, slot 1 status TIMEOUT

For reference, on a Cisco AP, “slot 0” is the 2.4 GHz radio and “slot 1” is the 5 GHz radio.  Hours of debugs showed the same thing, the radio would never successfully tune on the 5 GHz band, it would always return the status of “TIMEOUT”.  The good news is on our “new” code we did see the following output:

CAPWAP_RM: Timer expiry
CAPWAP_RM: Neighbor interval timer expired, slot 1, band 0
CAPWAP_RM: Triggering neighbor request on ch index: 4
CAPWAP_RM: Sending neighbor packet #4 on channel 149 with power 1 slot 1
CAPWAP_RM: Scheduling next neighbor request on ch index: 5

This particular AP was assigned a UNII-2 channel so we can confirm that it is indeed sending out NDP on every channel at the highest power level as seen on line 4 (bold is my enhancement).  As a sidebar, the first line of this example shows the timer expiring.  That timer is configured using the Wireless > 802.11a/n/ac > General tab, Monitor Intervals section on the RF Group leader WLC.  What’s an RF Group leader you ask, read the guide.  We run what has been called an “Ultra Redundancy” configuration, and when doing that the section on RF Grouping is critical.  Turns out the configurations for all of this stuff has to match EXACTLY on all WLC’s when running in ultra redundancy mode.  If it’s not, the whole TIMEOUT line starts to show up.  That’s not in any guide; we learned that one the hard way.  Moving on to our troubleshooting after our second code upgrade and configuration change.

Things had really broken down between Cisco TAC and me so they ended up bringing in a mediator to try and keep things civil and keep the case moving.  I had been so far in to the weeds on this one that I needed a fresh set of eyes just to verify we were following sound troubleshooting techniques.  I didn’t need a wireless guy, I just needed a tech guy.  Using the fresh set of eyes, we were able to determine that NDP was being transmitted.  We had an AP that was set to monitor mode and that guy could see EVERYTHING.  However, the nearby AP had varying levels of success.  When the operating channel was UNII-2, it was bad news for NDP and RRM.  When the operating channel was UNII-1 or UNII-3, it worked fine.  It was almost like an AP assigned to a UNII-2 channel as it’s primary channel stopped listening for NDP messages.  For reasons that were wrong, but lead to the correct answer in the end, search the Cisco guide and read the small paragraph about “NDP and DFS.”  It’s under the chapter about RF Grouping, and turns out it’s pretty critical.  Not in the way TAC wanted it to be but in how the system operates and how I was able to prove to TAC their stuff was broken.  (Spoiler alert: They already knew it was broken at this point, but it was still nice to find it on my own.)

DFS poses a unique issue when it comes to NDP, and normal operation in general.  In order for any Wi-Fi compliant device to transmit on a UNII-2 channel, it has to first hear a beacon frame from a master AP, or a directed probe from a client that is associated to a master AP.  An AP becomes a master AP by being assigned an operating channel that is in the UNII-2 band, and then following a set monitoring protocol, deem itself a master AP.  For Cisco, that monitoring protocol is to listen on the channel for 60 seconds for radar, and if hearing no radar, assume the master AP status and start beaconing using the normal protocols.  From the AP CLI, issue the command show interfaces dot11Radio 1 dfs to get a report from the AP on what it thinks it’s DFS events are.

In this case, what I found using debug capwap rm measurements was the following log:

17:08:32.634: CAPWAP_RM: Timer expiry
17:08:32.634: CAPWAP_RM: Interference onchannel timer expired, slot 1, band 0
17:08:32.634: CAPWAP_RM: Starting rx activity timer slot 1 band 0
17:08:32.918: CAPWAP_RM: RRM measurement completed. Request 2008, slot 1 status TUNED
17:08:32.966: CAPWAP_RM: RRM measurement completed. Request 2008, slot 1 status SUCCESS
17:08:32.966: CAPWAP_RM: noise measurement channel 100 noise 97
17:08:32.966: CAPWAP_RM: Enabling signal seen on DFS ch 100, triggering neighbor packet
17:08:32.966: CAPWAP_RM: [On-demand] Neighbor packet request channel 100
17:08:32.966: CAPWAP_RM: Skipping chan 100; Radar detected
17:08:33.714: CAPWAP_RM: Timer expiry
17:08:33.714: CAPWAP_RM: Neighbor interval timer expired, slot 1, band 0
17:08:33.714: CAPWAP_RM: Skipping neighor request chan 132; DFS channel
17:08:33.714: CAPWAP_RM: Scheduling next neighbor request on ch index: 14

For this debug, I left the time stamp in to show how fast this stuff is happening.  A couple of things learned from this capture is slot 1 is now tuning and reporting, so that’s good.  The next hurdle is in the middle of the capture.  Notice that at 17:08:32.918, it starts a RRM measurement.  At 17:08:32.966 it completes the measurement.  In sequence, with the same time stamp, we see a noise measurement on channel 100 (-97), an enabling signal (a beacon from from a master AP or directed probe) which in turn triggers an “[On-demand] Neighbor packet” for that channel, and then within the same millisecond, skips the NDP packet on channel 100 because “Radar detected.”  The next nugget is the second line from the bottom.  The AP simply skips the NDP packet on channel 32 because it’s a DFS channel.  From my perspective, it didn’t even try.

Some more information here, before moving on.  While setting up the neighbor intervals in the Wireless > 802.11a/n/ac > General tab, Monitor Intervals section on the WLC, the timer is set for how often the NDP packet is transmitted.  Spend some time reading this section in guide because it determines how often you see the lines above.  Default is set to once every 3 minutes; we currently run once every 1 minute.  It’s a balancing act of how much time you want your system to devote to keeping the neighbor lists alive, giving the system a better chance to run a successful RRM cycle.  While realizing that the system will attempt to send NDP only AFTER it sees an enabling signal, it becomes critical that there is a Master AP in the area, operating on that UNII-2 channel.  We fought about the section on Master AP’s for a while; Cisco arguing that there wasn’t a master AP, I was arguing that there was one.  While important, it wasn’t the lynch pin to the case.

As part of this excercise, I learned that Cisco LOVES to use the WLC config analyzer.  I really hadn’t played with it much, but it can give you some good information.  Cisco TAC loves it so much they stop paying attention to the physical distances between AP’s.  TAC never thought there was a problem because the WLCCA showed all the AP’s having neighbors; no problem.  What I realized is when I took this line and looked at the map of where the AP that reported this, I found a problem.

Skipping chan 100; Radar detected

On the surface, very innocuous.  In the WLCCA, never even considered.  When looking at a map or standing in the location, turns out there was an AP 30 feet away from the AP we collected this log from.

The AP was a Master AP.  On channel 100.  And had been for at least 18 straight hours.

Further digging revealed that every 60 seconds, this AP was skipping on demand NDP messages being transmitted because it kept seeing radar in the same millisecond that it saw an enabling event.  One step further; this same scenario was happening on THREE UNII-2 channels surrounding this AP.  In each scenario, the adjacent Master AP on a UNII-2 channel had been on that channel for at least 18 hours – WITHOUT DETECTING ANY RADAR!  Our guy in the middle of this mess, on channel 149, was detecting radar once a minute, every minute, for 18 hours, and therefore never sending out an NDP message on that channel.  Due to the amount of time a Master AP has to spending watching for radar to appear on it’s channel, it doesn’t have much time to scan other channels looking for other AP’s NDP messages on other channels.  With the code we were running, it wasn’t even possible to make this work.

Bottom line – to use RRM in a high dense deployment scenario and use UNII-2 channels to get the number of channels needed to accomplish this, be very careful of the code you are using.  I can attest to the 8.2 train, but nothing else.

After taking all this evidence and reporting it to the Cisco Mobility Business Unit (BU), they came back and said they had some new code for us to try.  The difference between the new code and the code we were running is 10,000 lines long.  They knew they had a problem, they just never told anyone.  The shortened version of what we were told is there are different chips in the AP used to detect radar.  In the first attempt they used a single chip to detect radar, and it didn’t work.  In the second attempt, they used a different chip, and it didn’t work.  In the latest attempt, they are comparing the output from both chips and will only trigger is both report radar.  While it isn’t perfect, I can report that it has resolved about 99% of the issues we were seeing.  Now when I run a debug on the AP, after the enabling event, the NDP packet IS transmitted.  It still doesn’t transmit on the posted schedule, but I can deal with that.

My NDP is now happy.  My RRM is now happier to the point we can actually start to tune it.  The super-duper hyper-location system still isn’t happy, but it’s no longer the fault of the NDP packet.  That’s another case for another story time.

To sum it all up, follow these steps:

  1. Read the guide, read the guide, read the guide.
  2. Follow basic troubleshooting steps.  Just because it’s wireless doesn’t mean troubleshooting rules change.
  3. Do over the air packet captures.  It’s the only way to confirm what you think is being transmitted is actually being transmitted.
  4. Use the AP CLI commands.  debug capwap rm measurements, debug capwap rm neighbor, show interfaces dot11Radio 1 dfs
  5. Understand that while the WLCCA is good, it’s not foolproof.  Use the correct tool for the job at hand.
  6. Use Cisco Prime Infrastructure (CPI).  I was able to walk out and stand in the space and understand the RF in person.  If you are remote, CPI, especially the new version, is a life saver.
  7. Don’t be afraid to push back on TAC.  If the answer you are getting doesn’t jive with what you are seeing, call them on it.  If the answer violates IEEE protocol, CALL THEM ON IT!  TAC can have a bad day, just like us.
  8. Don’t be afraid to use UNII-2.  We use it and according to the guide, we are the one place you CAN’T use it.

When you put all this together, and really understand what is happening in the environment, it’s like pulling the cover off the matrix, if only a little bit.  Hope this helps!

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I Love Antennas!

A little history first, then on to the good stuff.

Sometime in the spring of 1999 I found myself sitting in the back of a pickup truck driving down the Las Vegas Strip.  My purpose of sitting in the truck bed was to secure a $20,000 antenna that was destined to be installed at the very top of the MGM Grand the next day.  Our task was to transport it from the shop to the roof and prep the site for the final installation.  This antenna was an omnidirectional antenna, roughly 22 feet long, and if I remember correctly, operating in the 150 to 160 MHz range.  We were so concerned about damaging said antenna that we were afraid to strap it down in case we hit a bump and the antenna flexed and damaged an element inside.  As the new guy, I became the “strap” that could keep it in place and provide real time feedback to the driver to adjust to what the antenna was doing.  How we managed to get an antenna 22 feet long to the roof is a different story for a different time, seeing as it wouldn’t fit in any elevator that the MGM Grand had, but that was the first time I realized exactly how important, and expensive, antennas can be.

Now to present day.

I have been thinking about this post for a while but wasn’t sure how to start and what I wanted it to look like and blah, blah, blah.  Earlier this week I got an email as part of a chain and the sender had a question.  He was designing a Wi-Fi deployment for an area that was designed to be used for conferences and events, had a rather high ceiling, and wanted some feedback on some antennas he had researched.  That got me thinking of the whole process of how you get to the point you are trying to select external antennas.  For me, it’s second nature since I have been dealing with external antennas for almost 25 years but for others, it’s not as intuitive.

During WLPC_EU Lisbon in 2017, Carter Burke gave a Ten Talk where he started out by saying that “it’s all about the antennas.”  I 100% agree with him and if you haven’t watched his presentation, go check it out on YouTube, it’s worth your time.

The reason we feel like this is because in a wireless world, antennas are how the devices see each other.  Everything else can be spot on but if the antenna isn’t great, what does it matter if you have a 1,000 Watt transmitter with a receive sensitivity of -150 dBm and 24 chips on 3 circuit boards dedicated to doing great things if you have a crappy antenna with a bad ground and damaged elements?  Garbage in (due to a bad antenna) WILL result in garbage out.  It’s a simple equation we are all familiar with.  Early on in my Wi-Fi career I was able to convince people I knew what I was doing by simply suggesting new antennas for the existing AP’s.  The AP’s were old and not great, but antennas are always cheaper than the AP and I knew I could make a substantial difference with a minimal financial investment and some installation tweaks.  I was correct and here I sit.

Back to the email from earlier this week.  I realized that for my friend, I needed to back him up a little and start where everything starts, at the basics.  Just as a bad antenna can hinder a great radio; bad design, flawed fundamentals and incorrect hardware selection can’t be solved easily.  My advice to him was start with collecting requirements.  Just because an area is large with high ceilings doesn’t mean you jump straight to the chapter on stadium design and start there.  If there aren’t going to be a lot of devices to support, why use a lot of AP’s with high gain (read: narrow beam widths) if the requirements don’t call for it?  Sure, some areas will immediately scream for external antennas, but without additional requirements defined, how do you know if you need a 27 dBi parabolic dish antenna versus a simple low gain omni?  For the sake of this example, and based on experience, I know that my buddy will be mounting the AP’s in the ceiling (later found out it was a ceiling height of about 50 feet high) with patch antennas pointing down; some straight, others might be at angles depending on location.

Now the scary part.  How many and what type of antenna to use?  Even with all my experience with antennas, I still don’t have enough information to make that call.  Turns out most everyone knows about a tool that makes this easy and it’s called Ekahau.  Unless you are so confident in your abilities to design a space without using such a great tool, use it.  Granted, the parameters will be different than if you are designing a single story, standalone office space, but the output will still be very familiar.  Now, if you are doing a stadium with multiple floors surrounding a vast open space with plenty of crazy angles and the like, I would suggest upgrading to a product called iBwave.  It’s like Ekahau but designed specifically with stadiums in mind.  With our current example, my buddy doesn’t need iBwave, Ekahau will work just great.

When it comes time to define a radiation pattern and gain for the antenna, this is when things get tricky, and honestly I have wasted all this time just to get to this point.  There are a lot of elements (pun intended) to consider when making your selection.  I’m going to try and cover some of the basics and hopefully take some of the mystery out of this equation and lastly, give you my personal opinions on why I make the selection that I do.

  1. There is one fundamental truth that it pays to remember.  To increase the gain of an antenna, something else has to give.  For patch/directional antennas, that means a reduction in beam width, both horizontal and vertical.  For omni antennas, it means a reduction in “vertical” beam width since the horizontal pattern is defined in the name.
  2. Take the time to learn how to read the spec sheets for not only the radiation pattern, but for also the physical characteristics.  For outdoor antennas this means wind loading, temperature rating, and water resistance.  Most antennas that are outdoor rated pretty much have the same type of mounting solution (pole mount) but pay attention to the size of the pole the mount will accommodate.  For a simple Rohn Tower this generally isn’t an issue but for other types of locations, this can become an issue.  For indoor applications, aesthetics immediately come in to play and most solutions are driven off of this requirement, not what you need to do to make a great system/experience for the end users.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!  If something doesn’t seem “correct” about the product you are investigating, ask the vendor!  Remember, when using external antennas making an incorrect selection can destroy everything else that you have done to this point and everything else that comes after it; up to and possibly including someone purchasing the correct antenna and then swapping them out for the original hardware selection.  For a small job, and depending on the contract, that could wipe out any and all profit for that job.  Not a good feeling my friend.

Omni Directional Antennas

All antennas are gauged off what’s called an Isotropic Radiator, pictured below.  An Isotropic Radiator is theoretical perfection of a radiated signal.  Key term here is theoretical.  It doesn’t exist outside a lab or in the cubical I resign myself to occupy on a more constant basis.

Isotropic Radiator

It does, however, give us something to compare the antennas that are used in the real world.  Ever hear the term “dBi”?  Generally used when defining the gain of an antenna, it’s referring to the differential when compared to an Isotropic Radiator.  Since the majority of us don’t live in a clean room or Faraday Cage, we use actual real world antennas that differ from the picture above.  For this section on omni’s we will use the following examples:

From left to right, we are looking at a low gain omni, a high gain omni, and then a semi-hemispherical antenna pattern chart.  While most people like the cool graphics with the colors, I prefer the boring charts above the pretty pictures.  Either way, these are good representations of what happens when the radiating element(s) is (are) manipulated during the design process to accommodate different requirements.  It might be hard to see, but the image on the right, a semi-hemispherical antenna, shows what happens when you want the same idea as a low gain omni directional antenna but want to push most of the power in one vertical direction (think ceiling mount pointing down).  The difficulty in envisioning this antenna installed is the chart shows the antenna sitting on a table pointing up, not down.  The takeaway from these images are as the gain is increased, the elevation (vertical) plane is pressed down in the center to push the edges out further.  I think most people are pretty comfortable with the concept of omni directional antennas, so I will move on.

Directional Antennas

While studying for my CWNP CWDP exam, I ran across the term “semi-directional” and it hurt my brain.  I asked around to some of my radio buddies and they hated that term as much as I do.  Everyone agrees there are omni directional antennas (at least I think everyone agrees) and then there are antennas that are “not omni directional.”  If we negate the omni (omni meaning “in all ways or places”) then we are left with directional.

That’s it.

There is a defined direction the signal will propagate.  If you accept the term “semi-directional” now you need to define a term to define an antenna that isn’t omni and isn’t “semi-directional.”  That’s just stupid and I refuse to accept that.  What term are you going to use, “mostly directional”?  What’s after “mostly directional”, “all directional”?  All directional already has a term, omni, and since our not omni directional antennas are what we now trying to define, we can’t use that term.  I do, however, accept and use the term semi-hemispherical, as seen above.  I will now put away my soapbox and get on with things.

Directional antennas come in all sizes, shapes, and radiating patterns.  For most people, this is where things get confusing and they punt and select an antenna from the middle of the list, thinking it’s not the worst but not the best, so it “should” work.  If you have made it this far through my ramblings, have hope!  This is where it gets good and fun!  When I select an antenna, and antenna vendor, I look at the line drawings they provide.  Most AP’s that are deployed today have more than one antenna port, meaning the antenna you select should have more than one element.  If the vendor can’t or won’t provide a chart showing each element individually, how much do you trust their design or understanding of the product they are wanting you to pay money for.  I like charts that show me all the elements.

I know, some of you will puff out your chest and say “but Jim, I have locations where I have a 4 or 6 port AP and I only used one or two single element antennas!”  Bully for you, I have done that to, but you better be sure you know what you are doing if you want to pull that off.  If there is enough interest, I can go into that as well, but I ask one question.

Why?

My reasons generally center around existing single element antennas that were kept in place due to budgetary concerns but for new installations, either pick a different AP / radio type or design the installation site to use all available antenna ports.  It’s like buying a nice new truck with a V8 engine and then asking the mechanics to disable 2 cylinders before you drive it off the lot.  If you only wanted / needed a V6, buy the V6!  If you want a 2 stroke single cylinder engine (like my lawnmower), but one of those.  It won’t do much to get me to the office each day but it mows my lawn quite nice!

Dual Single Line

For the next couple of minutes, I will use the pattern shown above.  There are some basics that you can tell by this drawing, let’s walk through them.  All of these directions are based off the center front of the antenna, and most antennas should have an arrow that defines which direction is up.  Imagine yourself standing in the middle of the circle, holding the antenna up against your chest like a spotlight, with the up arrow pointing up.  The chart then explains what the patterns will look like.  The numbers around the outside of the circle are degrees, like on a compass, and the gradients inside the circle represent the drop in RF signal from the maximum (always at zero) and these numbers are in dB.  Actual transmit power is NEVER defined since it’s all based on the transmitter, just know that zero is maximum and as you spin left and right, it starts to drop off.

  1. Read the top line.  This is from Cisco, but all diagrams should define which band the drawing is from.  If it doesn’t, punch out now!  They really don’t know what they are doing and who knows if anything else is correct and what will happen when you install it.
  2. Figure out what the color lines are.  In this example, they combined both planes into a single drawing.  While not my favorite way of doing it, I can live with this presentation.  The azimuth plane defines horizontal, or left to right, and the elevation plane defines just that, the elevation or up and down.
  3. When manufacturers define the parameters of an antenna, they use a common figure to define the numbers they print on the specification sheet.  This figure, -3 dB, is the standard and is also referred to as “3 dB down.”  This is when the radiating signal drops 3 dB below the maximum RF level.  In the above example, the maximum RF level is at zero degrees, so directly in front of the antenna.  When looking left and right of the center line and along the blue line, we can only guess that it crosses the -3 line (or 3 dB down) at roughly 50 to the right, and 310 to the left.  The absolute difference between these numbers, transitioning through 360 degrees, is 100 degrees.  This defines the horizontal beam width of the antenna at 100 degrees.  Do the same thing for the red line, the elevation, and we can compute that the vertical beam width of this particular antenna is about 60 degrees, a rectangle much like the shape of the plastic radome that covers the elements.  Now, if this vendor had put more effort into the drawing, and trust into the designers who will add this antenna to their system, they would have added a line specifically at -3, not made you guess.

Roll Off

Now that we know the published specs for the antenna, lets talk about one more element that is easy to see in the drawing but hard to consider in real life.  My terminology for this element is the “roll off” of the antenna.  While 3 dB down is a great metric to measure off of, it doesn’t mean the signal stops at the 3 dB down mark.  It keeps going.  If you take a look at the blue line above, it keeps going farther to the left and right before it starts to pull back towards the antenna.  For this particular antenna, you get almost all the way back to the radiating elements before it bothers to cross the 10 dB down line!  At 10 dB down, this is actually closer to a 160 degree antenna.  At 2.4, where most people run with fewer transmitters and a little higher power, this isn’t good.  Consider a transmit power of 20 dB (100 mW) and the gain of this antenna is 6 dBi.  Assuming no loss in the cable or connector, we now have an effective radiating power (ERP) of 26 dB.  10 dB down from that is 16 dBm.  Using the numbers from item 3 above, 3 dB down is at 50 degrees and 10 db down is at about 80 degrees.  This differential gives us a roll off of about 30 degrees.  The smaller the roll off number, the tighter the radiating cell, and the more isolation the antenna provides in relation to it’s neighboring antennas.  In an environment with mobile devices, this antenna can add almost 60 degrees to it’s published horizontal band width specification and keep clients connected to AP’s that you don’t want them to.

Look, I really love external antennas, but using them blindly or at the recommendation of someone who doesn’t know any better can really mess up what you planned out to be a great RF environment.  The scary part is for the pattern above, the 5 GHz band is worse on roll off in the horizontal plane.  It’s almost a 180 degree antenna at 10 dB down!  Sadly, the elevation plane is pretty tight so I could really envision a deployment where I would install this antenna rotated 90 degrees out of the vendor recommendation, just to keep the cruff on the horizontal plane from interfering with it’s neighbors in the same elevation.  Now, this antenna has horrible mounting solutions if you want to rotate it 90 degrees, so that sucks.  The solution, after market antennas!

My buddy Mike once told a vendor that until the support people can remote or SSH into our antennas, he will use whatever antenna he feels best and not bother to mention that we aren’t using “their” antennas.  It adds a little more effort on our part, but he has a point.  The workaround is to build a chart that matches the radiating specs of the antenna we install to the vendor antenna so when they ask us which antenna we installed, we give them their part number.  Since they can’t SSH to the antenna, and they aren’t going to fly out here to verify it, no problem!

Now that we are moving to more advance stuff, let’s look at some drawings from some after market antennas.

Single Line drawingsDirectional Horizontal patternsDirectional Vertical patterns

These are small, and they suck like this, but I have a point.  The set on the top are decent, but some graphics designer got a hold of them and made them look hip, and I can tell you from looking at the full size of them, you can’t tell anything from them.  The drawing is almost pointless!  The shading and multiple lines make it hard to read and the lack of degrees around the outside again make it hard to read.  The fact that the company let this happen is discouraging!  Antennas aren’t sexy, but to those in know we don’t need pretty to do our jobs!  I also want to point out that of all the examples I’ve posted so far, only one has shown multiple lines even though all 3 antennas are 4 element, dual band antennas with roughly the same horizontal and vertical beam width specs.  Only one of the three vendors thought enough about the designer who is making the antenna selection to give them a chart that makes sense!  The top example shows it all the way down to the -50 dB marker, and that’s just stupid!  It’s pointless and only muddies the picture.  My favorite is the second set, let me explain why.

  1. The company thought it through and actually drew a 3 dB down line on the chart for us, no more guessing.
  2. Instead of 90 degree or 45 degree markers around the outside, they gave us 30 degree markers, easier to read and not as much guessing.
  3. They included all 4 elements.  The dirty truth is not every element is perfect, and enclosing 4 in one space means they feed off of each other, even if they aren’t touching.  To assume they all work exactly the same is naive and not showing all 4 makes me wonder what they are hiding.  Is every element perfect in these drawings?  No.  Do I care?  A little bit, but I at least have all the information to make my own decision.  This vendor isn’t hiding anything by creating an average of all 4 elements so I can’t see the massive null in the 5 GHz vertical plane from Lead 1 and Lead 2.  They offset each other but now I know how they adjusted the design to compensate for the null.  This vendor trusts their product so much they are showing the actual sweep, and I respect that.

What’s a null you ask?  A natural “hole” in the pattern that happens in antennas that aren’t isotropic radiators.  This null is also what creates what are known as lobes; both side lobes and back lobes.  Anytime the null comes significantly in towards the radiating element it creates “wings” in the pattern and the wings are known as lobes.  If the lobe occurs forward of the center line (in this case the +90 and -90 line) it’s known as a side lobe, behind that center line it’s known as a back lobe.

Top Tips

  • Each vendor does their drawings different, especially when it comes to labeling and layout.  Not sure which one you are looking at, try these cheats:
  1. They will always show a vertical and horizontal plane.  Figure out one label (“E Plane”?  No idea) and the other one is the other one.  H Plane is horizontal because nothing else makes sense so E Plane must be elevation (or vertical) plane.
  2. Still confused, find the 3 dB down line on the drawing and figure out the degrees of that element.  3 dB down at 55 degrees means it’s probably a 110 degree graph.  Go to the specs and figure out which spec is 110 degrees and match it up from there.
  3. Crazy pictures like the last set are real life, embrace it and learn to love it.
  • When in doubt run your own tests.  Install 2 different types of antennas with similar specification and walk around with a device that measures signal.  As you expand your distance from the antenna, write down the signal.  When you see the significant drop in signal, you’ve now reached the edge of your cell.  Since we discussed roll off earlier, you have now discovered that in real life.
  • Not everything that is good in one location will be good in another.  Treat each location as it’s own and re-evaluate on it’s own merit.  Internal antenna AP’s don’t give you much flexibility in this department so the planning and workload isn’t as much.  External antennas can solve a lot of problems but not taking the time to select the correct antenna for each location can also induce a lot of problems.  Antenna isolation and roll off might work well in one environment but may be problematic in a different environment with a different use case.
  • Never forget to follow best practices when designing with external antennas.  Yes, it gives you a lot of flexibility but skipping basic design steps like identifying use cases and device type will come back to haunt you and leave you answering a lot of questions
  • This is a repeat tip, but ASK!  Reach out on Social Media, ask the vendor, ask the manufacturer, phone a friend, doesn’t matter.  Physics define how most of this works so most answers should be similar in nature, if not even the details.
  • Consider the mounting options from each vendor.  If you think the antennas are different, think about the places you are asking someone to install them, if it isn’t you climbing the ladder. Multiple and flexible mounting solutions means less specialized hardware to order and greater options when your original plan flies out the window while you are 30 feet in the air in a cherry picker.
  • Consider cable type and length.  An extra 10 feet of Cat6 cable doesn’t have as much loss as an extra 10 feet of low grade coax cable.  When we are talking about receive signals of -76 dBm, a couple dB means a lot!

Conclusion

This little post was never intended to be the end all be all about antennas.  This was my attempt to take some of my knowledge about antennas and get it written down to help out a friend.  I could go on further but I think this works for now.  The antennas I envisioned while typing this up were the more common types I use but I have and use a myriad of other types.  If I could make one recommendation for you to take away from this it would be this: respect antennas, but don’t be afraid of them.  Get some different types of antennas and do your own testing.  Figure out what works best and then go give it a shot.  There might be some stumbles along the way but the more comfortable you get with these the better the end result will be.

What’s your experience or stories with external antennas?  I would love to hear them!

I have a weird sense of humor

So a couple of months ago I saw a picture on Twitter of someone who did a “Conference Call Bingo” card and I thought it was pretty funny.  Then I thought about it for a couple of minutes and realized that it had one serious limitation – everyone who used it would have the EXACT same card.  That’s not fun at all.

Enter my weird sense of humor, and some time when I should have been doing productive work stuff but decided this was WAY more important.

I created my own version of Conference Call Bingo using Excel, but with more than the standard 25 entries.  Then I spent way too much time figuring out how I could shuffle and randomize the entries on the card.  Then someone in the office opined that if one subject (conference calls) was good, two different subjects would be even better.

So I spent more time not doing what I’m paid to do and created a second tab for the overnight change windows that seem to stretch on forever.  Then I realized I needed to add some instructions because what started as a funny picture had now evolved in to a multi-step process to entertain yourself.  Enter tab 3 to the document.

Without further ado, I would like to release my waste of time creation to my friends in the Wi-Fi Twittersphere and wish you joyous times during mind-numbing calls.

https://jimswirelessworld.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/conference-call-bingo_v1.xlsx

The one issue that hasn’t been firmly resolved is what to yell on the call that will alert your fellow competitors that you have won the game but won’t tip off the unaware participants (like PM’s) that your purpose of being on the call is not to contribute but to mildly entertain yourself while being bored at your desk.  I will take submissions of what to yell on Twitter, but ultimately that word will be up to the participants to agree on.

In our office the leading contender is “Goat Cheese!”

 

 

I Am Mildly Indifferent To Captive Portals

I know this has been a topic in the past about why captive portals exist, should they be there, what purpose do they serve, and why do companies want to monetize a service that most people believe is as crucial to running a facility as indoor plumbing and running water is.

At the recent CWNP Wi-Fi Trek in Orlando, we had many discussions about captive portals that followed in this same train of thought.  What I noticed, and had the exact same conversation about twice, is no one knows what to do when traveling and you find yourself stuck behind one of these monstrosities.  What I have found in my professional life is the executives of my company complaining that the Wi-Fi in the hotel they were staying in while traveling “didn’t work.”  Of course the Wi-Fi didn’t work, I DIDN’T DESIGN IT!  Sad part is there might be a very qualified Wi-Fi professional on the other end of that design, very well could be one with more certifications and experience than I have, but some mid-level manager horked up their Wi-Fi system with a captive portal and now users complain.  The point of this discussion is captive portals are a way of life for the foreseeable future, and this is how to deal with them.

Back to the poor Wi-Fi professional who put tons of time and effort in to designing a system that has perfect RF, great data flow, everything that a great Wi-Fi architect/engineer has dedicated years of their professional life training to do, only to hand it off to a server guy to mess up our work.  It’s always the Wi-Fi system’s fault so as a guy in the know; I came up with a plan to deal with this bane of our existence.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have been responsible for deploying captive portals in the past, and I know of at least 3 that are still in operation to this day.  Guess what, I’m a MUCH better RF guy than I am an HTML coder, so in my example, I’m the server guy that messed up my Wi-Fi system.  That’s how I know these tricks.  There are 3 steps, and I will list them off and then explain why and how it works.

  1. Never, and I mean NEVER, click on the little window that pops up that says “Click here to access the internet.”
  2. After NOT clicking the window or dohicky pop-up thing discussed in step 1, launch the browser of choice on your given device.
  3. Browse to a website of your choosing that is http and not https.

Explanation time, so hold on tight.  For those that want to bail out, now is the time to do it.  Spoilers do come next.  As with all rules, and these in particular, you can break the rule but understand why you are breaking the rule and if things go sideways realize you might have to come back to step one, possibly even resetting the TCP-IP stack type step one.  If you are reading this, after you get some idea of the mechanisms behind a captive portal, you will be able to tell rather quickly when you can break the process and when you have to go through the steps.  My wife, who makes me do all this for her anyway, is never allowed to break this process.

Step 1 – Never click the little window or pop up.  This ties back to the server guy who configured the captive portal and wrote the HTML script.  Sometimes that guy is awesome; sometimes he still lives in his mother’s basement.  This also ties in to step three, so we will refer back to this.  The pop up windows can be defeated if the server is programmed to pass the URL’s that common devices ping after they establish a connection to tell if you are connected to the internet.  Can I ping apple.com?  I’m on the Internet and there is no portal.  I can’t – must be a captive portal, let me show my user the pop up window.  The issue with this is the browser you get after clicking on that window isn’t always a full-blown browser.  In my experience, iPad’s are the worse.  The Safari browser that launches on an iPad doesn’t support Bluetooth keyboards.  Try explaining to your CEO why she has to turn off her Bluetooth keyboard, get the onscreen keyboard to launch, type her room number in, press enter on the screen and then turn her keyboard back on, right after she got off a 15-hour flight to Asia.  Step 1 was painful to be learned.  Step 1 also allows you to fulfill Step 3.  If you skip Step 1, you might get stuck on Step 3.

Step 2 – Open up a browser session.  I like this because I have taken control back from the robots that inhabit my devices and makes it do crazy things when I don’t want it to.  This will also allow me to proceed to Step 3, the most important step actually.  Different browsers will behave differently, and I can pick which browser I want to be in.  It doesn’t really matter, but the CEO of my company, and my wife (not the same person in this case, I really do have a separate CEO of the company) don’t get this and think they are stuck using whatever browser pops up.  Having something familiar when navigating the coding of some unknown person after a long day of traveling always helps.

Step 3 – Browse to an http website.  This is crucial, and I can’t stress this step enough.  Recent security concerns have prompted device, OS, and application folks to really lock down what your browser will allow you to do.  Hijacking an https session, which is what a captive portal is trying to do, makes the previously mentioned folks unhappy, which in turn makes you unhappy.  Fortunately for us, there are some websites that are still http and I keep a list of them handy and distributed throughout our company for this purpose.  Entering an http website allows a couple of things to happen, and understanding them is REALLY helpful.  When someone hits enter, their device tries to reach the Internet.  DNS servers “should” be white listed so your device tries to browse to remote server, and since it is an unsecured connection, your device will allow the captive portal to hijack the session and return it’s own HTML page in it’s place.  Someone at WiFiTrek said they enter 1.1.1.1, bypassing any possible DNS issues, to trigger the captive portal and it does work.  Depending on how savvy the end user is, this is a possibility.  Back to my wife; she gets the http URL. There are ways to make it happen when accessing an https site but it takes a lot of time babysitting the server to keep the security certificates up to date and everything kosher on the back end.  Large organizations with dedicated IT can pull this off somewhat successfully.  This process is really for the Days Inn you find yourself staying in while visiting the scenic town that is Rawlins, Wyoming.

Anyway, you will finally be seeing the captive portal in a browser you know and one that has all the functionality you expect to have.  Now you can actually interact with the page and enter your name, room number, place of birth, blood type, your first neighbor’s pets middle name, and what you ate for dinner exactly 259 days ago; you know, the normal stuff.  Hit enter and then drop to your knees and pray.  Not really, but it can’t hurt.

Assuming the information you entered is correct, you will be allowed past the captive part of the captive portal.  Remember, a negative answer from a server isn’t a malfunction, it’s simply a negative answer, but it’s still an answer!  A negative answer means you now need to contact someone onsite to verify what you entered is correct.  In some instances, staff have to manually enter your credentials and the problem might reside there.  If you are validated on the captive part of the system, you are now in a grey area that can change based on any number of factors.  This is where following the steps eliminates the amount of grey area you encounter and give you the best shot of not being confused.  To clarify this, we now need to talk about server programming that will “break” the Wi-Fi system.

Captive Portal systems have a “feature” known as “post-authentication redirection.”  What this means is the server has the ability, if enabled, to send you to a predetermined URL that is entered by the programmer.  This is used to send you to the homepage of the location you are at or a different URL if the system owner decides that.  Either way, it’s simply a URL that’s entered on a single line in the server.  If the portal you are navigating has this enabled, and the URL is still valid, you will see a web page.  This is great because it means you have completed the process.  The portal will log your Wi-Fi MAC address for a predetermined time, like a DHCP lease timer, and you are now free to surf the internet on your preferred browser; the one from Step 2.  The process is done until the timer runs out and you must repeat the process.  The issues come when this post-authentication redirection isn’t enabled or they are trying to be fancy and the redirection gets lost and never sent to you.  This scenario is why this process even exists.

Possibility 1 – Post-authentication redirection isn’t set up.  This is the most common and easiest to diagnose / solve.  If Step One isn’t followed, this becomes an issue.  When clicking on the little pop-up window, you are opening up a browser with the sole purpose of loading an HTML page.  You never actually tried to go anywhere.  Without the redirect, you now have nothing to show.  Depending on the device, browser, OS, personal settings, etc., you may get something, a blank screen, or possibly even the log in page again.  It was the last HTML page it displayed, so it just shows it again.  If you don’t know any better, you start cussing the Wi-Fi and throw your device against the opposite wall.  Funny thing is you are actually online and just don’t know it.  Close the browser and continue on your way.  If you followed these steps, you entered a website in Step 3 that will now appear.  This is a visual indicator to you, your spouse, and your boss that they are now online because they got where they were headed.  Wi-Fi obviously works and no devices are injured in this experience.  Wi-Fi designer is AWESOME (of course we are) and they continue on with their life and go drink cognac wearing a smoking jacket next to the fire, or whatever normal people do in hotels.

Possibility 2 – Post-authentication redirection is set up but they tried to be fancy and it’s broken.  This is harder to diagnose and solve because now it’s not just one designer that failed, it’s a whole team of them.  There is a certain airport Wi-Fi provider that is pervasive around the world and they have this problem all the time.  They don’t admit it, but they do.  Based on where you are and how you logged in and how much you pay they will show you a different experience.  Sometimes they get too fancy and you end up being shown a dead-end road.  From my experience this is a white screen with a banner at the top.  Also in my experience, you may or may not be online; the end user has to attempt to browse to a new website to see if works.  This scenario is harder for the end user to overcome because what you see seems to contradict what you think you know.  If your intended web page shows up, you are online and can close the browser and go get a stiff drink as a reward for successfully completing this gauntlet of terror.

If attempting to browse to your website doesn’t work you will see the home page of the portal again.  Try to navigate it again and if you get the dead end again, you are now at the mercy of the portal operator.  If the name of that operator starts with a “B” and sounds like something you would hear at the local Bingo Parlor on a Thursday night, give up and go hide your head.  If it’s a different provider, you might be able to contact them and convince them to white list your Wi-Fi MAC address through the captive portal, preventing you from needing to navigate the portal altogether.  It’s an outside shot, but it can be done.  The unfortunate truth is the client is ALWAYS the one who suffers in this outdated attempt to monetize a service that should be free.  If you aren’t going to plan a guest Wi-Fi that is fast, free, and frictionless, just don’t do it at all.  End of story.  If your real-world experience ends here, I offer my heartfelt apologies.  Wish there was more I could do for you.

There it is.  The end of our journey.  All I can say is unless something drastically changes in the industry very soon, captive portals are going to be a part of our lives for a long time to come.  While dealing with them isn’t pleasant, I hope this helps you to at least reduce some of the friction when trying to explain something that shouldn’t exist to someone who doesn’t understand it.  I would love to hear others experience and their tips for dealing with captive portals so please share your story!

Wi-Fi Trek

Orlando is hot and muggy, even in October.

I am at the airport, waiting for my flight back to the crisp, cold weather of Colorado and leaving this stuff behind.  I won’t miss the weather, but I will miss the people.

I met some amazing people who actually accepted a nerdy radio guy in to the nerdy Wi-Fi club.  The list is too long to name, but if you were around me this week, then you know who you are.  I took a design class for 3 days, 10 hours a day and got to talk and share stories about nothing but Wi-Fi.  I got to hang out with professionals from all over the world and talk Wi-Fi and technology in general.

I took the Certified Wireless Design Professional certification test on the second to last day.  Even though I disagree with at least 2 of the questions on my test, and I KNOW that one of them is total garbage, I still passed.  Go me!

What do I take away from this week?  There are some crazy smart guys in this world that can talk about wireless processes that are measured in nano-seconds, NANO-SECONDS, for 20 minutes and keep me enthralled!  I thought I was pretty good but compared to these guys, I’m a monkey who can ask for grapes.  (Yes, I stole that line.  I like to steal obscure social references and incorporate them into conversations.  If you get them, you’re welcome.)  Listening to these people talk is inspiring.  Interframe spacing times, frame and packet analysis, and general philosophies about how things can be done is refreshing to hear from a room full of people.  Overall, it makes me want to be a better person so next year I feel like join their world and not be an interloper.  Hell, I started this blog to try and contribute what I can to the community.  I might be the dancing clown in the corner, but at least I feel like I brought something to the table to make up for all the stuff I’m stealing from it in the mean time.

What next?  No one really cares but me, but I do have some ideas for blog posts.  The antenna theory in the community needs a shot in the arm.  We call it theory but in reality there isn’t much theory, it’s all practical.  So some blogging, waiting for the podcast so I can be formally introduced into the community, and waiting for the WLPC conference in February.  I will be working on a 10 minute presentation for that to get some speaking skills honed up.  Training, certifications, and general learning is also in my future.  What really inspired me was hearing that CWNE’s number 2 and 3 either taught, or took classes at Wi-Fi Trek this year, but also took tests again.  In so many other technology disciplines, the “experts” sit back on their laurels and never keep up with technology and trends.  The fact that they still care is the biggest takeaway from my week.

Experts who care, and care about the monkeys and their grapes.

I’m here, now what?

Tonight I did my very first podcast.

Well, I didn’t do it, I was on a podcast that was recorded and eventually one day will be casted out on the internet and someone will listen to me talk about something I really don’t know much about.  A little more history is in order at this point, and I think some words from my experience earlier this evening was almost spot on.

January of 2017, me and my buddy Mike are at work, doing Wi-Fi stuff.  Like crazy Wi-Fi stuff that we thought was a little crazy but we knew we were late to the party, so EVERYONE must be doing crazy Wi-Fi stuff, right?  We are a couple of dumb radio guys but we can’t be the only ones.  Problem is, where we were sitting, we couldn’t see anyone else in the same predicament we were in.  We Googled everything else in life, why we never thought to Google “Wi-Fi People” is beyond me.

Remember, dumb radio guys.

Anyways, my buddy yells at me and says “hey, I want Ekahau training!”  If you know what Ekahau is, good.  If you don’t, finish reading this and then Google it.  You still won’t understand what and how Ekahau is, but at least you Googled something.  In what has to be one of the turning points in my life, I Googled Ekahau training.  Somewhere on the first page was a link to some get together in Phoenix in February of 2017 that offered Ekahau training and then a little get together for a couple of days after that.

I found WLPC.

Like some people with Ekahau, I found WLPC but I had no idea what I had actually FOUND.  Long story short, Mike makes it to an Ekahau Certified Survey Engineer class that was part of the Wireless Lan Professional Conference run by a guy named Keith Parsons.  First day in the class, he sends me a message that says “we break every rule in the book.”  I wasn’t too concerned, I had never seen a book on Wi-Fi so why do I care if I break some rule that I didn’t care about?  Second day the message is “wow, we really have no idea what we are doing.”  Somewhere between the realization that we had built one of the fastest guest Wi-Fi systems in the country by breaking every rule in the book and not knowing enough about how the Wi-Fi world was supposed to operate, I said “I want in!”

We were doing things so bad, we compared ourselves to the Holiday Inn Express Commercials.  You know them, the one where someone does something great and then says “I’m not really that person, I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” We weren’t even smart enough to stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, we got drunk at the bar and passed out in the bushes in front of a Holiday Inn Express last night.  We didn’t even intend to make something great, we were at the right place at the right time and did something amazing.  Probably still drunk, but we did it!

After discovering Twitter was something more than to listen to customers complaints about, I started following some amazing people.  Amazing Wi-Fi people who are REALLY smart.  I started reading their blogs.  One in particular, Rowell Dionicio (@rowelldionicio, packet6.com/blog) changed my life and turned it upside down.  He doesn’t know it, but my 6 month TAC case is thanks to his blog.  The fact that he had SECRET information about how the frames work in 802.11 and actually typed it up in a format that I could understand, to this day, still blows my mind.  The fact that the TAC Engineer didn’t have this information and I did made me AWESOME and Rowell had given it to me for free!  Thanks Rowell!  If I ever meet you in person I owe you a drink!

I also discovered this group called CWNP.  Didn’t know what it was or why it existed, other than to confuse our group wondering what new Cisco certification program we had found, but I wanted in!  In the summer of 2017 I took my first CWNP class, Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA).  Man, I knew RF but I had no idea what all this other garbage was.  I still wanted in, but I was sure I wanted in to something that was over my head and I was going to drown.  Whatever, fake it till you make it!  (I have never lived my life this way, but I guess I can start.)  Shortly after, I discovered that they had this little meet and greet in the fall called “WiFi Trek.”  I figured Mike had gone to WLPC, I might as well go to Wi-Fi Trek and have a look see at this magical organization that I wanted to join that was going to drown me in my own ignorance of the thing I really liked to do that I had conned someone in to paying me to do.  Why not.  Problem was I had taken the class, but I hadn’t taken the test.  Now I really wanted to show up to Wi-Fi Trek with a cert, but I still thought I was the guy passed out in the bushes at the Holiday Inn Express.

Together, Mike and I buckled down and studied, and went and took the test together.  We both passed, I finished first but he got more right and we are still debating what that means.  Either way, I could show up to Wi-Fi Trek in Orlando with a cert!  I rock again! (Or maybe I rock for the first time?  I don’t know any longer.)

October comes, and I pack my bags and fly to Orlando.  First day of the class I signed up for, I walk in the room and meet Keith Parsons for the first time.  This is one of the magical people I had discovered on the Twitter, and he tweeted really smart things.  Maybe he was like me and was just faking it (he’s not) but I was here amongst my new people!  My wandering in the desert had come to an end.

One of my first tweets that I think people noticed is when I said “the more I learn the more I realize I need to learn.”  It’s not even one of those deals where the road gets just a little longer when you go around the corner, that sucker triples in length every time I just look up.  Taking the Certified Wireless Design Class from Keith is like that.  I hear that taking any class from Keith is like that, but either way I had a great time.  That is what lead me to tonight.  During class, I participated (he asked us to, not my fault!) and at the end of the three days he asked if I would be willing to do his podcast with him and talk about the crazy stuff we were doing in Wi-Fi.  After a very short, but long 8 months, the great Keith Parsons wanted to record me telling stories.  I tell stories all of the time, and some of them are even true, but no one had ever wanted to record me before.

Since I ruined the end of my story in the first line, I did the podcast with him.  My first.  He also encouraged me to start a blog, and between that and a podcast Keith did with Rowell (Wireless Lan Professionals podcast #108) a month or so ago that I had listened to on the flight, here I am.  I started a blog, did a podcast, and so far nothing has blown up in my face.  Granted, no one has read the blog yet (I want to clean it up before I tell anyone) and the podcast needs to be edited before it is posted.  Still, I want to consider this a win so far.

Tomorrow is Day 2 of Wi-Fi Trek, and my CWDP exam, so still plenty to blow up and plenty of time to do it.  At least this way, Keith and Rowell can take the full blame of everything else that happens from this point further.

They told me to just do this!

How did I get here?

Many, MANY years ago I was a junior in high school, in Utah, not really sure what I wanted to do with my life.  I was working in a restaurant after school and every day I would either walk or ride my bike to work and pass an Armed Forces Recruiting Station, and seeing as my older brother had been in the Army, I thought “Hey, why not?!”

WOW, I would never guess what would happen after that.

Many stories later, 19 years worth of stories, I found myself married with 2 kids and living in a midwest state in a rather large city.  At the job I was working at I realized I was bored and there was a service that our group, the Radio Shop, was responsible for that was interesting, and the guy who was running that service was less than fit for the job.  I knew I didn’t know as much as he did about this crazy thing called IP Networking and in fact, I.T. in general.  My main realization was I knew a WHOLE lot more about radio stuff than he did, and that was killing the service.  This new thing I had stumbled into was a crazy technology called Wi-Fi.  Little did I know that 5 years after that my life would be turned around and I would be designing and running a whole Wi-Fi network and doing some crazy stuff I never imagined.

Stick around, who knows where this whole crazy thing will go next.